Do you ever feel that restaurants are always serving the same few trendy dishes these days? As much as I love fried chicken and baos, they just don’t excite me anymore. So when we came to Boralia (@) for dinner, my eyes lit up as I read the menu. The dishes were so unique and exciting. I wanted to try the entire menu – and we came very close!
Boralia is quite unassuming from the outside but the interior exudes this wonderful warmth and coziness. It’s a long and narrow space with booths along one wall, the bar down the other wall and a long table at the back for large groups or communal dining. During the entire meal, it didn’t seem to get too loud which makes it a nice, intimate spot which would be perfect for a date.
Located on the trendy Ossington strip, between Queen and Dundas, the restaurant is brought to us by the husband-and-wife team Evelyn Wu (who has previously worked at Coi in San Francisco and Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck) and Wayne Morris. The food here is their modern interpretation of historic Canadian fare. According to their website, “Boralia celebrates the historic origins of Canadian cuisine. Our menu draws inspiration from traditional Aboriginal dishes, as well as the recipes of early settlers and immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries.”
The menu is designed for sharing and they recommend ordering 2-3 dishes per person. Prices range from $14 to $24 with most hovering around the $15-$16 range. They also offer a few small snacks like devilled eggs and oysters. From the snack section, we ordered some Chopsuey Croquettes ($6 for 3) which were these tasty little deep-fried bites.
Following the croquettes, the Spiced Scallop Crudo – wild ginger, pickled chanterelles, fermented chili ($16) arrived. The delicate scallops were wonderfully light and simply prepared to allow the scallops themselves to shine and boy did they. It was a great way to whet our appetites.
Up next was the Venison Liver & Foie Gras Parfait – blackcurrant red wine gastrique, bread crisps ($15). The rich parfait delivered a touch of liver flavour but the dominant flavour was the foie gras. But who’s complaining? With a bit of sweetness from the gastrique, this was a perfect parfait. As we ran out of bread crisps, our attentive server brought us more without even asking.
Boralia’s signature dish is the L’éclade – mussels smoked in pine needles, pine ash butter ($17), so if there’s only one thing you’re going to order here, it has to be these mussels. It’s quite the presentation as it arrives covered in a glass dome filled with smoke. Upon removing the dome, the smoke is released up into the air. It smelled incredible and tasted even better.
I was a bit apprehensive about the use of pine needles as I recall eating a dish with them and it tasted like eating Christmas trees (in other words, quite unpleasant). Thankfully, the use of pine needles in Boralia’s dish was far more successful.
The plump, perfectly cooked mussels were sitting in a deliciously smoky broth which had a campfire-y essence to it. We ordered some Red Fife Levain Bread & Cultured Butter ($3) to ensure that none of the broth went to waste. But broth or no broth, I’d highly recommend ordering their bread which was really delicious on its own.
A dish I was excited to try was the Grilled Whelk – Kombu beurre blanc, burdock root & carrot ($14). The whelk was served in the shell but was already cut up into a few bites with picks in them so you could easily eat them. I enjoyed the texture of the whelk which had a slight chew without being rubbery and I loved the rich, buttery beurre blanc. This mollusk is often described as a snail from the sea and they certainly do have a texture like escargot. The accompanying roots and carrots underneath the shell were also quite memorable. I’m not sure what they did to them but they tasted like chow mein!
Up next was the Bison Tartare – wild ginger & garlic aioli, piment d’espelette, pickled fennel, grilled bread with crema di lardo ($15). Bison might sound exotic and perhaps a tad scary to some, but it’s almost identical to beef. There were a lot of different flavours in this tartare but they all worked together really nicely.
One of my favourite dishes of the evening was the Sweetbreads & Peas – Madeira glaze, black garlic, pea shoots, split pea miso ($15). The sweetbreads had this slightly sweet glaze on them and were highly addictive. If you’re a fan of sweetbreads, this dish is a must order!
There are only a couple meatless dishes on the menu with one of them being the Stuffed Onions – Vadouvan-spiced carrot, rye berries, onion soubise ($14). The tiny onions were stuffed with a velvety carrot puree and while they were quite small in size, they packed a lot of flavour into each bite. The rye berries were a great accompaniment and despite their name, they aren’t actual berries. Rye berries are a type of grain (similar to farro) which has a chew to them. These grains are so much tastier than rice!
Up next was the Pan-Roasted Elk – wild rice-crusted egg, cranberry gastrique, burnt onion, radish ($16). I’m not always a fan of lean meats but this was cooked wonderfully to a nice medium rare. It was tender, wasn’t the least bit dry and had a very nice meaty flavour. The soft poached egg was the perfect pairing as the yolk added some richness to the otherwise lean dish.
The Pigeon Pie – roast squab breast, parsnips ($24) was definitely a highlight of the meal. The dish consisted of a meat pie (like a tourtiere) and two slices of succulent roast squab breast. The knife cut through the squab breast like butter and for those who haven’t had squab before, it tastes quite similar to duck.
As for the pie, it was another standout of the meal. Underneath the buttery, flakey pie crust was delicious chunks of pigeon meat. Each and every component of this dish was really something special.
Another meat dish we ordered was the Rabbit Rubaboo – roast saddle and sausage, pine mushroom duxelle, beet ($16). The juicy rabbit meat was well seasoned and was served rolled up. It was a tasty dish but compared to all the other fantastic dishes we ordered, this wouldn’t be my top pick.
To end off the meal, we shared the Pumpkin Bread Pudding – corn ice cream, rosehip syrup, ginger shortbread crumble ($9). The texture of it tasted as though it had been pressed and I enjoyed the corn ice cream which helped to offset the sweetness of the bread pudding.
The second dessert we shared was the Louisbourg Hot Chocolate Beignets – spiced chocolate ganache, beer batter, lemon sugar ($9). Be careful when you first bite into them. Each fluffy beignet is filled with a hot liquidy chocolate ganache.
Like I said, they have a very inventive and exciting menu. It’s one thing to have a menu that sounds amazing but it’s another to execute the dishes well. Boralia’s certainly firing on all cylinders and as a result, we had a nearly flawless meal. If you’re getting tired of seeing the same trendy dishes from restaurant to restaurant, Boralia will definitely get you excited about dining out again!
At a glance:
- Located on Ossington, between Queen and Dundas
- Unassuming on the outside, warm and cozy interior
- Closed Mondays/Tuesdays; open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday from 5:30pm
- A modern take on historic Canadian fare
- Great for sharing; 2-3 dishes per person
- One of the most memorable meals in recent memory
- Highlights: L’éclade, venison liver & foie gras parfait, sweetbreads, pigeon pie
Ratings (out of 5):
- Food: 4.5 stars
- Service: 4 stars
- Atmosphere: 4.5 stars